ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Road salt hasn’t been seen often this winter due to a lack of snow and cold, and for area waterways that could be the best news they’ve had all winter. Salt used to melt ice has continued to grow in popularity since the 1970s, and now more are becoming aware that the amounts being used are causing issues for the environment.
This was the case in Maryland, right outside the headquarters of the Izaak Walton League of America, a conservation group working to protect waterways across the country. They watched a pile of road salt sit near a nearby storm drain that fed directly into a local stream.
“The levels in our streams jumped by from 30 parts per million which is abnormal all the way up to 600 parts per million essentially overnight because of that one spill […] we realized if this is an issue in Maryland where we don’t get that much winter weather that’s probably a huge issue across the country where they use way more road salt,” said Briggs.
The goal of the aptly-named “Salt Watch” program is not only to keep track and study how much salt is in waterways nationwide but also to engage people in their local communities and get involved in advocacy.
“Getting an individual engaged is more likely to transition them into an advocate in their own communities,” said Briggs. “Whereas people think you know oh this is probably not an issue where I live or in my backyard. If you actually see that test strip show that there are high readings of chloride on there you’re going to be way more engaged and concerned about what’s happening in your waterways.”
Citizen Scientists receive a test kit and an instruction card detailing how to take a reading and submit it — all for free. The data is then shared for free so that when there are issues found action can be taken, or at least identified.
“We work with you know local municipalities where we have engaged volunteers on advocacy actions [they] can take and then also sharing our data with those municipalities so they can understand what’s happening in their region even if they don’t monitor for chloride themselves,” said Briggs.
Part of the program is also about educating people about just how much salt you really need versus what you think you need.
“A 12oz mug or so this size holds enough salt to treat a 20-foot driveway or ten sidewalk squares,” said Briggs. “We also encourage folks to sweep up extra salt when they see it so they can reuse it in the next snow event rather than just letting it run off into their streams lakes and ponds.”
Briggs also mentioned they already have a few observers right here in the Rochester area but are always looking for more people to get involved, in both the “Salt Watch” program and their new “Nitrate Watch” program as well. Nitrates in water come primarily from fertilizer and agriculture runoff and are a main contributor to harmful algae blooms that can lead to fish die-offs and other issues in a body of water.
To join either program or both, head to the Izaak Walton League of America’s website and fill out the “Salt Watch” or “Nitrate Watch” pledge, and they will send you a free kit and instructions on how to take and submit readings.